Pevensey Town was built at the head of a lagoon that stretched some four miles inland. When Pevensey Castle was built by The Saxons in the eleventh century, it was almost surrounded by water with open sea to the south and the lagoon, which housed the harbour, to the North.
Although still described as a port in the late sixteenth century, it was probably at its most prosperous in the eleventh century, until slipping into a gradual decline through the thirteenth century and beyond. In the early 1700’s the customs office was gone and by the nineteenth century the harbour had silted badly and was beyond use for boats of any reasonable size. The town continued as a small fishing centre, while in its hinterland, Pevensey Marshes, was farmland. As the land was reclaimed from the sea a new village, Pevensey Bay, was developed.
Pevensey, Westham and part of the Parish of Hailsham formed a Corporation, the jurisdiction of which was the Lowey, or Liberty, of Pevensey. The corporation had a bailiff, jurats and commonality. There were four courts. The Court of Record dealt with civil matters such as debts, trespass and detained goods. One of the duties of the Hundred Court was to appoint the constables for the parishes within the Liberty. The Sessions, latterly held twice a year at Easter and Michaelmas until County Quarter Sessions took over the more serious criminal offences. Attended only by the Bailiff, the Assembly dealt with administration of property, levying of rates and election of the corporation officers. Records of the courts were kept right up to the 1830’s.
Pevensey belonged to The Cinque Ports Corporation as partner to Hastings. In the late 1660’s it was reported that the Corporation of Pevensey consisted only of a Bailiff and two jurats. In 1886 the Corporation of Pevensey ceased to exist. The Pevensey Town Trust was formed to manage what was left of the Corporation’s property.
Buildings of interest include :
ST NICOLAS CHURCH
St Nicolas Church was built early in the 13th Century and completed in 1216, so it will be 800 years old in two years time. It is classed as a Grade 1 Listed Building, showing that it is of considerable historic importance.
It is a good example of the Early English style of architecture, and has been changed very little since its completion.
The structure is massive masonry, with a large proportion of Eastbourne Greensand, similar to the Roman part of the castle, and facings of local flint. The roofs are supported by huge beams of Sussex oak, which are original, as are most of the smaller timbers especially at the east end.
When first built the tower was much lower; the spire was barely higher than the main roof. In the late 19th century the tower was raised and the bells were re-hung. The clock was installed in 1908 and still keeps good time.
Inside the church are a large number of items of historic interest; including a crusader’s coffin cover from the 13th century, a large statue in memory of a wealthy resident from the 16th century and some excellent Victorian stained-glass windows.
The church seems unusually large for present-day Pevensey, but at the time it was built, and for several centuries afterwards, Pevensey was a town and port of some importance.
Services are held in the church every Sunday and Tuesday, so it is in great demand for Weddings and Christenings, and it is open every day for visitors. Our slogan is “St Nicolas Church is the oldest building in Pevensey still in use for its original purpose”.
To celebrate its 800th anniversary the church will undergo some restoration work to re-cover parts of the roof and to re-decorate the interior.
To the left of the door, you can see 3 crosses carved in the stone. It is thought that crusaders put them there before leaving Pevensey. The largest is embellished and it is believed that one crusader did this on his return.
Built in around 1510, Banks Lodge was once a “Hall House” and it was likely that it was the residence of “Portreeve of the Port of Pevensey”. The building is faced with flint cobbles and has casement windows with stone surrounds and mullions. There are dripstones under a tiled roof.
THE SMUGGLERS INN
This 16th century timber framed building was re-fronted in the 18th century, and the walls, cornice and parapet were all faced with rough cast. To the rear can be seen timbering and infilling. The white building behind The Smugglers was the old fire station
THE OLD FARMHOUSE
This former farmhouse was built in the 17th century. Re-facing with flint cobbles and red brick dressings changed the building in the 19th century, and in the 20th century an extension was added to the west end. The original slate roof was replaced with tiles in more recent years.
THE COURT HOUSE AND MUSEUM
Until the Corporation of Pevensey was dissolved in 1886, this building was not only the Court House, but it also housed the smallest Town Hall in England.
There are still 2 small cells at ground level.
In the 16th century, the building was constructed of flint cobbles, brick and stone dressings. There are quoins under the tiled roof. These are masonry blocks used to support the corners of a building.
The Magistrates’ and Court Officers benches can still be seen. The Corporation’s mace, weights and measures can be seen in this very interesting museum. The original seals are the oldest surviving of any of the Cinque Ports. You can visit the museum, owned by Pevensey Town Trust, and run by volunteers, during the summer months. There is a small entry charge for adults.
BY THE WAY
Beside The Court House, and opening into the twitten, is a small 2 storey cottage built around 1700. It was originally the residence of the Beadle of the Corporation of Pevensey. The Beadle was the Town Sergeant.
THE MINT HOUSE
It is not surprising that The Mint House is reputedly one of the most interesting buildings in South East England, The present building, erected in 1342, stands on a site that was used as a Norman Mint as long ago as 1076. It was altered considerably, in 1542, by Dr Andrew Borde, Court Physician to Henry VIII. Another claim to fame came in 1548, when Edward VI came to stay here for health reasons.
Inside there are examples of fine oak panelling and an overmantle, consisting of elaborate carvings. These date back to 1460. Sadly the building has been standing empty for some years now.
PEVENSEY CHURCH FARM TRUST
Mediaeval Archaeological Excavation
Founded in 1997, Pevensey Church Farm Trust was the inspiration of the then churchwarden, Hugh Miller, The intention was to purchase a piece of land adjacent to the churchyard with a view to building a hall with kitchen and toilet facilities, of which there are none in the church, with meeting rooms for social activities. A large area would be given over to an extension of the burial ground, as the present graveyard is almost full to capacity, and the remainder would be landscaped as a public amenity.
The Trust was set up with three trustees, (later increased to four), the first task being to establish ownership of the land, which after some negotiations was purchased with a gift from an anonymous donor. The site at that time was derelict and overgrown
Planning consent was obtained, after protracted negotiations, in 1999. It was then discovered that before any work could begin, the Trust was obliged to have an archaeological survey, the site being in an area with considerable historic connection. Carried out in 2001 this revealed that there are sites of significant archaeological value: it is therefore obligatory for a full dig to be carried out. As the cost of such a dig would be well beyond the Trust’s means, the County Council agreed, after further negotiation, that we could carry out the exploration of a limited area to enable extension of the burial ground to go ahead. The plan for the hall was abandoned
Since 2006 the land has been licensed, as a temporary measure, to a local smallholder for the grazing of sheep and pigs, which eliminates the need for annual cutting and clearing of the grass and weeds. The presence of livestock is also an attraction to visitors to the village.
Early in 2013 contact was made with the Bader International Study Centre, part of Queen’s University of Ontario, based at Herstmonceux Castle only a few miles from Pevensey.
The Director of Field Studies expressed an interest in carrying out the dig as part of their field studies programme. Any artefacts recovered from the dig will be conserved, recorded and made available for public exhibition. On completion of the dig, the ground will be restored and built up according to the requirements of the Environment Agency and to facilitate burials.
In May 2014 students from BISC carried our a preliminary dig to discover the nature of the ground and decide on the best places to excavate. At the same time the Trustees made an application to Heritage Lottery Fund for £79,500, the estimated cost of professional oversight of the project and the analysis of any finds. The application stressed the value of this work to the community, in revealing more of the history of mediaeval Pevensey, and that the extension of the burial ground would also ensure that the right of villagers to be buried in consecrated ground would continue to be met.
Unfortunately Heritage Lottery Fund did not agree to fund this project, so that for the time being, as at Autumn 2014, the work is on hold.